As the Northern Hemisphere begins its slow tilt toward the sun, American Protestants will start giving their churches money to send their children away. These spring break and summer excursions will most often be to tropical places or a few remaining snowy places for skiing.
The teenagers can work on their tans on the beach in Central America while sharing the gospel and hammering nails. Somewhere, however, in their own hometown, there are people or families starving, unable to read, struggling to make ends meet or who just need to hear the encouraging words of their Savior.
Christ gave the Great Commission in Matthew: 28, in which he instructed his disciples to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." In the last 100 years in the United States, many evangelical churches have grown in wealth and membership, and felt such a need to keep kids entertained, that the churches have turned mission trips into spring break and summer extravaganzas.
Trading backyard and hometown missions for islands of sand and sun, many churches have just assumed charities and the government can take care of the locals -- or maybe the Catholics and the liberal social justice Protestants. The Catholics cannot do it all and the liberal social justice Protestants may feed a body, but will not nourish a soul.
Evangelicals are failing at the great commission in the United States. Many of them consist of traditionalists with conservative political leanings who wish the government would shrink. But it is their churches whose roles have shrunk. The government is more likely to take care of a homeless person or a poor family than a church. But the government cannot feed their souls, nor should it. No Republican wants Barack Obama's government teaching a person morality any more than a Democrat wants George W. Bush's government doing the same.
This is a vital mission for American churches that they have largely abandoned on the domestic front outside their own congregations. Back in the seventies, the Catholic Church in the United States remained focused on life. After Roe v. Wade, many American Protestants decided abortion was not a moral issue, but a medical one. Catholic leaders, from the pulpits rarely visited by Protestants, insisted on moral clarity in the fight wooing their Protestant brothers to their side. Now it is taken for granted that both Catholic and Protestant Churches tend to be pro-life.
In the same way, the Catholic Church has been feeding the souls and minds of America's youth through Catholic education programs. After Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans in 2005, if not for the Catholic Church, many children in South Louisiana would have been without schooling. But Catholics cannot do it all themselves. There are plenty of private Christian schools in the United States set up by Protestants. But many, if not most, of them were created for Christians to escape government-run secular schools.
Christians should not seek their escape, but should seek to draw others to them -- even drawing the poor to their Christian schools. A growing number of Christians have withdrawn their families from American society and culture. It is understandable, but regrettable. Through their schools and missions, Christians should be drawing their communities to them and Christ.
In the coming weeks, Christian teenagers will be headed to Haiti, Mexico and possibly rural Appalachia to share the gospel, ski or swim and maybe work on a pickup line or tan line.
In doing so, they will drive by a poor person, a homeless person, a family's home in need of repair or a family itself collapsing. Their response should not be that our government will take care of the situation. The church should take care of its community.
Christ commanded Christians to go forth. There is a mission field in our own back yards just waiting for us to show up.